Genesis 12 : 10 - 20 Abraham and Sara in Egypt
Do you want to read the text of the Bible first?
- Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.
- When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance;
- and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, "This is his wife'; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.
- Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account."
- When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.
- When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
- And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.
- But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife.
- So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
- Why did you say, "She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone."
- And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had.
Last held on the 18th of November, 2001, at Hattem
When famine broke out in the country.
In which country? In Israel! The land where God had brought Abraham to. The land where God would bless Abraham. That would overflow with milk and honey.
But Abraham has barely arrived there when something happens that's contrary to God's promises. No sooner is Abraham walking in the way of faith than his faith is challenged.
And it hits the spot right away. For Abraham is roaming in the south, as the conclusion of the previous section mentions. In the Negeb desert. Always an arid and dry area. And now that there is famine, it's a miserable situation there; even death is lurking. The land of promise doesn't even like to give naked life, let alone prosperity, milk and honey, clear proofs of God's goodness. Where is the blessing that the Lord had promised?
How lifelike is the Bible! Because we all experience that from time to time. You may even experience it now. That we are in great worry, in need. And that even as men, to whom the gospel promises much nicer things.
'When famine broke out in the country.' Maybe you put it this way: 'when illness came into my life.' Which gives me pain. I can't do what I want for a long time. I'm very concerned about my future. I've even to face death and therefore fearing. How strongly I desire health, but it will not be true.
'When famine broke out in the country.' You may put it this way: 'when loneliness invaded my life.' I miss my husband, my wife, who passed away; or who went away to another partner. I miss the real contact with my father and mother, who don't understand me, now that I'm struggling in my growth towards adulthood and am faced with all kinds of questions. I miss the good contact with my children, who go on different ways in life as I do. I miss good friends, good fellow Christians, to whom I can express the most personal feelings, to whom I can pour my heart out. I'm so hungry for love, understanding, human warmth, but it's not going to be true.
Famine, hunger for food is terrible because food is the basic necessity of life. Fortunately, we may not experience this now, unlike millions of other people in distant lands. But different kinds of hunger and need can also upset us when we're longing for health, strength, meaningful work, love, happiness; you name it.And that's a challenge to our faith, just like Abraham had. Where is God, on whom you rely, to whom you entrust yourself? It can be a heavy struggle when the Lord acts differently in our lives than we thought, and He brings us into needs that seem completely contrary to His promises of goodness and blessing.
We know we can be oppressed in the world. 'For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.' (Hebr. 12:6). 'And He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous' (Matth. 5:45). But needs and concerns remain a struggle in our faith and a temptation to leave God. They are tests and exams of faith from the Lord, which we certainly don't always pass brilliantly.
Let it be our consolation that even Abraham, the father of all the faithful people, passes the first test badly, as we see in the sequel. But let it be a warning at the same time: imitate him in his faith, but not in his unbelief.
' When famine broke out in the land, Abraham went to Egypt to sojourn there as a stranger, because the famine was severe in the land.' Egypt! A country where you can take shelter, and about which you also can cry. A land full of material prosperity, but also full of paganism, full of life-sized dangers for God's people. And that's comparable with the Netherlands and other countries of today. Much material, but little true spiritual wealth. In any case, no longer the land of promise.
Is it right or wrong for Abraham to go there? Is his 'descent into Egypt', as it says in Hebrew, also a spiritual turning down?
In his favour must be said that he's going to be there as a stranger. He doesn't want to settle there. It's only temporarily. As soon as possible, he will return to the land that God has shown him. Just as we must also realize that we're only temporarily on this earth and heaven is our destination. We're strangers here, living in the world, but not being a real part of the world. Or have we forgotten that because of our earthly prosperity?
In his favour it's also said that the famine was severe. Abraham doesn't leave for a trifle but driven by great need.
And yet it may be his own will more than God's will. Yet he may expose himself to great risks and become too dependent on others. Still, it's always better to be hungry in Canaan than to sit by the fleshpots of Egypt. Better to suffer in God's ways than to rest and have plenty in ways outside of God. Better to be poor with Christ than rich with the world.
Even now, the search for more prosperity, a better position, a climb up the social ladder can mean not a climb, but a dangerous descent into the world. And even now, loyalty to the Lord can mean that your existence is not easy, you've to live a frugal life, while it's yet the best way, one with an eternal future. Better a minimum income in a fair way than a lot of money in an unfair way. Better hated for telling the truth than celebrated for participating with mendacity. It's better to feel lonely as a girl than having the boys swarming around you like bees because you've got a certain name. Let us not sell ourselves spiritually for the comforts and pleasures the world offers. Once we leave the place God has shown us, his church, living according to his commandments, we may get ourselves in trouble.
Isn't that the same with Abraham? He gets scared as he approaches the border of Egypt. No wonder. As soon as we lose faith in God and want to do things ourselves, we become anxious. And not without reason. When we have but a little knowledge of human nature, we realize that. Abraham also knows how the world is doing. And he says to Sara: you are beautiful. Because I'm your husband, they'll kill me to get you. Just say that you're my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and I may stay alive on your account.
Necessity is the mother of invention. And a drowning man will clutch at a straw. Who lost faith in God and has a great fear of death does strange things.
Let's not be too quick to judge. Who knows what we are capable of in life-threatening situations? But here Abraham is falling very deeply. Indeed, nothing shows his trust in God anymore. He has only pinned his hopes on his own cunning. He resorts to a half-truth, which is a complete lie. Because even though Sara may be his half-sister, that doesn't matter now. He more or less gives up his marriage; and Sarah's honour. And he also opens the way for the sin of fornication. And he even tries to enrich himself unjustly, for he thinks that as a brother and close relative of Sarah he will receive the dowry and be showered with gifts. He even betrays himself ugly by mentioning that first, even before sparing his life. Tell me that you're my sister because it's well with me for your sake and I'll stay alive.
These are quite a few sins against the second table of the law: you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet. But like it's not bad enough yet: Abraham knows that Sarah may become the matriarch of the people of God. And that through her descendants, God all the families of the earth will bless. So Abraham drops his wife and God's promises. The bearer of the promises of salvation appears to be its great enemy and antagonist. If it had been up to Abraham alone, the progenitor of our Messias, the Lord Jesus Christ, would have disappeared forever in the harem of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Terrible.
And how great greed is these days! Often we approve anything as long as it goes well for us, and we benefit from it. I'm thinking for a moment about what's was in the news these days in the Netherlands: fraud in housing construction. And it's twice as bad as we Christians commit these sins. After all, we should make visible with our walk of life that we are bearers of God's promises of salvation, and the Lord has made a covenant with us. 'But you are completely different, you have come to know Christ' (Eph. 4:20).
How bad if nothing comes of it. It's disappointing if, in our way of thinking and acting, we descend to the level of the sinful world, the Egypt of today. It's a pity if we, bearers of God's glorious promises, in the practice of our lives drop, even oppose those promises; if we're the greatest danger regarding their fulfilment.
If it would have depended on Abraham alone, all that the Lord had started with him, would have been destroyed by now. If it would depend only on us, the story of God's love and salvation would long be over. The cross is the sign of that. For it was at the cross that Jesus, the personification of God's love and faithfulness, found his painful end through the sins of men. Deep down, Abraham drove a nail into the hand of Christ in what he did, and we still do. Has that already made us kneeling? Full of guilt? And praying: Lord, I'm doing wrong so many times. I'm so risking any good that you want to give me. Forgive me?
So Abraham arrived in Egypt. The border guards see that Sara is very handsome. They report this to the princes, the district authorities, who look at Sarah with equal admiration and praise her to Pharaoh. Horrible, such an inspection of human flesh with a view to sensual pleasure. But is the election of Miss the Netherlands or Miss World so different? And with what in mind do men look at TV beauties, TV advertising with beautiful ladies? And what's the behaviour between boys and girls? In what someone else is attracting us? Is it because of her beautiful face or her pure heart? Is it because of his noble features or noble traits? Certainly, the eye also wants to enjoy something. But be careful. Appearances are deceptive. And beauty fades. Don't rely on looks alone. You are in danger as well if the girls dream about you or the boys follow you with special looks
That was especially the case with Sara. In those old hard times. When one discriminated the women, and it mainly was about her bodies. One even didn't believe she had a soul too. And when the kings measured their power and prestige by the quantity and beauty of their harem wives.
And so Sarah disappears behind the walls of Pharaoh's palace. Abraham got it right. He knows the circumstances in Egypt. In itself, a good thing. We must not be unworldly, naive, ignorant about what's 'going on in the world. It's good you understand things and can predict developments. We must keep our eyes in our head. We must avoid that people cheat us. However, that doesn't mean we should adopt the cunning and meanness of the world so that nothing distinguishes us from the great masses anymore.
That happens with Abraham. And - how terrible - it doesn't do him any harm. Just as he had thought. 'And Pharaoh dealt well with Abraham for her sake, so that he received flocks, asses, slaves, maidservants, and camels.' Pharaoh is not a random tyrant. He knows what should be done. He doesn't forget to give the dowry to Sarah's family, in this case, to Abraham. And Pharaoh takes pride in paying a high price. Thus the lie makes Abraham rich. Not only is he saved from starvation, but he's also a wealthy man. But he builds everything on deception. And unfortunately that also still occurs. What about the million-dollar scams in construction projects, as I mentioned already? A lot of money is dirty money, black money, bribe, blackmail money. How many corruption scandals are exposed and how many are not? Satan is smart. He usually rewards generously those who submit to evil. To take them in forever, to calm their conscience, to let them live on in the falsehood. Evil punishes itself, yes in the long run, but at first sight, it seems as if it is rewarding itself. And that's quite a temptation. Not only Abraham, but many succumb to it. Let us be vigilant in the way we handle money in society.
And that's how our history could have ended. But fortunately, what Abraham dares not take into account, nevertheless happens, now to his shame: the Lord intervenes. The Lord Himself prevents all His promises from being lost because of Abraham's sins. The Lord personally saves the progenitor of Israel, yes of Jesus Christ. The great "but" sounds, with which the Lord breaks through all sinful human work. But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abraham's wife. Though Abraham didn't take it into account, and we often don't, the Lord can work strongly in the hearts of the most powerful world leaders, even if they don't know Him. The greatest men of the earth are small, and the strongest weak in the eyes of the Lord. They are not in charge, but the Lord is in control of the fate of humanity. And He can allow many deeds of them, but if they stand in the way of the fulfilment of His promises, they pose a threat to His chosen people, He will alter their policies, be they willing or unwilling. He ultimately is the king of kings and Lord of lords ( 1 Tim.6:15). That's our consolation and reassurance. The Lord holds everything in his grasp. Even the Pharaoh of Egypt is a puppet in his hand.
' But the Lord struck Pharaoh with great plagues.' You can expect that, if you live in sin, also in the sin of fornication. Then the plagues of the Lord will not fail. Like, I say it carefully, lose behaviour can lead to AIDS or venereal disease. One day we will feel it when we have aroused God's wrath. And fortunately, because that can bring us to repentance. No, not every adversity in our lives is directly a plague from the Lord because of certain sins. It can also be a test of our faith, like the famine for Abraham. We must be careful. And yet it can be a means by which the Lord makes us feel that there's something wrong with us and we must repent. Don't we all hear such loud calls from time to time?
But it's bad that it's Abraham who caused the blows that Pharaoh gets with his house. When God called him, the command sounded: be a blessing. Here he is a curse that provokes disaster. Others can become the victim of the evil we do, while we, as bearers of God's promises, should spread blessings.
What kind of plagues Pharaoh received is not mentioned. That's not important and would only satisfy sensationalism. Nor does the story tell how Pharaoh found out that Sarah was Abraham's wife, but Pharaoh does call Abraham and asks: What have you done to me? Why didn't you tell me she's your wife? Marriage ethics were not bad at all in Egypt. Even Pharaoh only took a free wife, not a married one. Abraham has brought him into problems of conscience, and Pharaoh blames him. What have you done to me?
The Lord, in his general goodness, often gives even more moral sense to the unbelievers than we think. And the children of darkness can lecture the children of light. An unbeliever can be a shameful example to a believer. We, as members of the Church of Christ, are no better than anyone else. Sometimes worse. It's terrible when our course of action brings someone who does not belong to the Church into moral trouble, the trouble of conscience. And yet it's possible.
That's how it's going to be a major disaster for Abraham. He thought he feared danger from Pharaoh, but Pharaoh experienced danger from him, moral danger and the plague of God about it.
Nobelly Pharaoh returns Sarah to Abraham. He no longer talks about the dowry either. But Abraham is moved across the border with his wife and property as soon as possible. Under police escort. As a suspicious individual. He kept silent, and that's eloquent. He flopped. He knows nothing to put forward in defence. There's also no wrong we did that we can justify. One can only tell good things of the Lord.
Fortunately, God's faithfulness is exalted above Abraham's unfaithfulness. Yes, the Lord continues His saving work right through all of our human failures. The Lord makes right what we'r doing wrong. The Lord restores what we've made into pieces. The Lord intervenes in a saving manner when His children have gotten into terrible trouble because of their sins. It's because we cannot hinder his wonderful plans for this world by our faults.
We'll see that later. Abraham may have given up his wife as the bearer of God's promises and the progenitor of the Lord Jesus, out of fear of losing his life, but God goes on and saves Sarah.
And centuries later, the Messiah has been born. He wanted to give up his life to keep God's promises of reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and salvation. He, the true bearer and fulfiller of all God's promises, has also been dropped. They crucified Him. It seemed like a definitive point behind God's work of salvation. But He's raised from the dead. The Lord continues with us sinners. That cross becomes the deep fulfilment of his work of salvation. Amazing grace. Kohlbrugge said: what's left of a person when we strip the Pharisee off? A sinner. No more. But of the Lord, everything is left. His loyalty and love are indestructible. One cannot destroy His plans of salvation. If we are faithless, He remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Lord, Your power is great, Your faithfulness will never fail, all that You have ever promised endures. Amen.